Southern Sudan and the curse of the plutocrats

Category: Writing aboard the Kenya Airways: A story on coming to Rwanda for the first time
Published on Sunday, 12 July 2009 21:28
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parek
Parek Maduot is an occassional commentator from Sudan
In my wanderings I once saw upon an island a man-headed, iron-hoofed monster who ate of the earth and drank of the sea incessantly. And for a long while I watched him. Then I approached him and said, "Have you never enough; is your hunger never satisfied and your thirst never quenched?"

And he answered saying, "Yes, I am satisfied, nay, I am weary of eating and drinking; but I am afraid that tomorrow there will be no more earth to eat and no more sea to drink." - Khalil Gibran

I know that corruption has taken on a monumental spot in the midst of our political and social discourse since the beginning of this experiment in genuine Southern autonomy and self-governance. It is a serious affliction that has been acknowledged as such by the highest levels of our nascent government, starting from the President himself who consistently professes his personal commitment to zero tolerance for it and its practitioners. The scale of that corruption and its various permutations however gets lost in the sheer emotional tenor of the discourse about it, and necessarily complicates the very efforts essential to combat it.

The direct pilfering of government funds by officials and government functionaries entrusted with legally disbursing them dominates the public discussion on this issue as we all know. It is undeniable that such theft occurred and continues to occur in the South because of the sheer lack of institutional structures that continue to plague us. The procurement process remains a work in progress in terms of instituting the kind of controls that are essential to keep political appointees and civil servants honest as they discharge their duties. The legal framework that is needed to empower the judicial and law enforcement agencies to pursue allegations of misuse of public resources has not been setup with the speed that was essential to preclude runaway malfeasance after the establishment of the Government of Southern Sudan in 2005. Needless to say, that was just a manifestation of the broader reality that the legislative and executive branches themselves were being set up almost from scratch too at that very same moment. This is not to excuse the lethargic pace of the law-making process from our legislature, but to just state the obvious. In the face of this legal vacuum, and humans being infinitely capable of succumbing to greed when unchecked, we had significant abuse of authority by many of our officials.

The corrosive effects of that conduct can be felt in the deafening public recriminations against the whole government, lumping together the lecherous thieves with the selfless public servants. Most ominously, in a transitional period when the SPLM is pitted against a duplicitous partner bent on abrogating the CPA, the allegations of corruption are being exploited by the NCP to besmirch the reputation of the only alternative political entity that they genuinely fear in the Sudan, and that is the SPLM.

The sensational drumming up of allegations by the NCP and their Southern agents should not be conflated or lumped together with the genuine consternation of the rank and file Southerners seriously disappointed by the conduct of some of their recent heroes. As many others have already eloquently stated in different settings, the scale of official corruption in the North over the last two decades since the Islamists seized power boggles the mind and permeates almost every lever of the central government in Khartoum.

Alternatively, the government of Southern Sudan can credibly claim to have spent the bulk of the monies disbursed to it since the CPA in paying a huge army and civil service corps it was obligated to manage. A smaller portion of the funds went to development, but that was anticipated even before the government took over as can be seen from the reports of the Joint Assessment Missions (JAM) that predicated serious development strides on foreign donors fulfilling their pledges before and after the OSLO donor conference. As we all know, those pledges have not materialized, even though I am also inclined to think that they were specifically delayed because of the perceived difficulties we have had with managing our own resources.

A cursory back of the envelope calculation will show that the so-called billions being bandied about by the NCP and their allies were not stolen in sacks by government officials, but were spent in maintaining this lumbering government and army that is in serious need of downsizing and reform. All this is not to discount whatever happens in Juba and the rest of the South, because being dwarfed by your neighbor in his or her level of mendacity is no virtue.

Nonetheless, as concerned citizens, it behooves us to assess this problem in a manner that is not detrimental to the overall cause of justice and sustained peace in the South. My biggest fear is that we buy the narrative being peddled by the NCP and other enemies of the South and SPLM in the heat of our anger about these instances of corruption we hear daily. I know I am not making a great revelation by pointing out that there is a nefarious strategic purpose behind painting the whole of GOSS as a failed institution populated by thieves and incompetent losers. This is a clear attempt to re-brand a Movement that fought valiantly for over two decades to achieve a serious measure of autonomy and a commitment to the exercise of self-determination by the people of Southern Sudan.

It is an effort we must valiantly resist, not because of the bright legacy of the SPLM in the past, but because we know that not all of our people in the government are implicated. Most importantly, if we genuinely are concerned about eradicating this problem, then we must logically acknowledge that the same sentiment is also shared by many of our people tasked with the responsibility of building these institutions from scratch against huge odds. Our active involvement in the discourse on this issue should therefore be channeled towards strengthening the institutions and instruments of social and judicial reform, and not towards destroying the whole government because we happen to be looking in from outsides the gates of power. The legitimacy of the government and its moral standing are essential to its continued utility, and if our time horizons stretch really beyond our own lives and all the way to posterity, then we should contemplate our activism in a way that pushes our leaders to do their duty as today’s custodians of what is essentially a public treasure.

The plutocrats, as aptly described above by Khalil Gibran in his great piece, are insatiable iron-hoofed monsters who think that eating and drinking non-stop is their only survival recourse. They are found in every society that ever had resources, but their harm can be mitigated through time-honored measures devised to keep man and his greed in check, and that is the endeavor our government must master. However, there is a seminal battle brewing for the future of Sudan and the very gains ushered in by the CPA, and it’s important that we don’t let our struggle against official corruption be diverted to derail the whole house.

*Parek Maduot is an occasional commentator from Sudan. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..